Reflections on New Mexicos minimum wage fight

Commentary

New Mexico has just gone through two major campaigns to enact a higher minimum wage law. One was a ballot referendum in Albuquerque in November 2005. The other was to pass a bill in the recent session of the State Legislature to cover the whole state. Both efforts were defeated.

If the New Mexico Fair Wage Coalition is to ultimately succeed in raising the minimum wage from the federal level of $5.15 per hour to $7.50 per hour (with inflation indexing included in the law), some conclusions need to be drawn from these defeats.

In the Albuquerque campaign, two things became apparent.

First, a poorly written referendum became the subject of a tremendous scare campaign by the Chamber of Commerce that spoke directly to the self-interests and fears of the general public. The Chamber twisted a section of the proposed law that spoke about citizens seeking to inform workers about their rights into a gross perversion of the truth, namely, that it would allow “thugs” to invade businesses and schools for the purpose of disruption.

Second, there was insufficient support and participation from the section of the working class that would have directly benefited from the increase in the minimum wage. While various efforts were made to organize this section of the working class, they were not enough.

In the campaign to enact a statewide minimum wage law similar weaknesses came into play. The Republican state legislators obstructed and voted as a bloc against the minimum wage, while most Democrats tended to waver. The vacillations depended on the amount of community support the legislation could generate.

In areas outside of Albuquerque, community organizational support was not as great as in the metropolitan area. In southern New Mexico, three state senators representing border districts became the stumbling bloc to having a minimum wage law enacted.

The argument of these legislators was that low-wage labor competition from Texas and Mexico prevented them from supporting an increase in the state minimum wage. It was claimed that such a minimum wage increase would force chili food processors such as “Border Foods” to relocate to either Texas or Mexico. (Border Foods is the major employer in Deming, one of the poorest towns in New Mexico.)

Obviously the ruling class once again attacked us at our weakest point, the lack of sufficient rank-and-file community organization and support in the districts outside of Albuquerque.

It is notable that every politician, except the far-right Republicans, refrained from attacking the city minimum wage law of Santa Fe of $9.50 an hour because in that city minimum wage supporters have a solid community-labor organization to back up their demands.